The investigation also covered numerous manual handling and workplace transport incidents, which resulted in injuries to employees.
Officers from Swindon Borough Council visited the warehouse in 2016 following a complaint by a member of staff. The council’s health compliance team discovered the company was preparing room divider sheets, which was not a registered activity at the warehouse.
Evidence showed the preparation of the sheets was carried out in a highly explosive environment and not enough action was taken to mitigate the risks to employees.
Workers were provided with damaged or faulty face masks and conditions were so bad, council officers served an immediate Prohibition Notice.
JB Global, which owns the furniture retailer, was prosecuted for failing to prevent or control exposure of employees to solvents and wood dust under DSEAR as well as failing to to carry out risk assessments and of failing to prevent exposure to substances hazardous to health under COSHH.
Councillor Cathy Martyn, the council’s cabinet member for housing and public safety, said the uncontrolled work activities being carried at the Cheney Manor site posed a very real risk of explosion, fire and potential long-term health conditions resulting from exposure to carcinogenic MDF dust and harmful chemicals.
Two further charges were brought against the company for failing to ensure the safety of its employees, while a further charge of failing to ensure the safety of agency staff or contractors was also levied against the firm.
JB Global pleaded guilty to significant breaches of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations (DSEAR) and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) at Aldershot Magistrates’ Court. Judge Pattinson ordered the company to pay fines totalling £398,000 and costs of £94,904.
A spokesperson for JB Global blamed rapid growth of the business for the breaches. According to the Swindon Advertiser, a spokesperson for the firm said: ‘Around four years ago, a small workshop where parts of our shop fittings were produced was opened.
‘Regrettably at this time certain health and safety aspects of this new workshop were not fully understood. We fully accept we could and should have done better on this aspect of our operation.’
The statement said that Oak Furnitureland is now a ‘very different business’ and since 2018 there have been substantial changes including a new CEO and senior management team. ‘We have developed from a young entrepreneurial business into a national retailer, with health and safety a priority at all levels,’ the spokesperson added.
‘This case related solely to past health and safety and was unconnected to the manufacture of our products. Our customers can be assured these issues have never affected the production or quality of our furniture.’